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Issue #201

by  in CBR Exclusives Comment
Issue #201
  • THIS WEEK:

    THE INTERNET FACTOR: just how much effect does it have on comics sales?

    REVIEWS FROM VENUS:

    LETTERS FROM MARS: reader feedback on parade

    THE PLAME NAME BLAME GAME and other tales from the Netherworld

    NOTES FROM UNDER THE FLOORBOARD: Heroes Con, how to know if your art sucks, SHAUN OF THE DEAD and a million other things

  • As I’ve mentioned before, if you don’t get Warren Ellis’ Bad Signal e-newsletter, you’re cheating yourself. Sure, it’s often pointless blather as Warren simmers in the pub, and many of the communiqués are strictly self-promotion but that’s what you have to do these days, but more often than not he comes up with very interesting conjectures, speculations and observations that leave you wondering why no one else ever asked the same question. As in “today’s” (a misnomer; some days he sends numerous e-mails, others none) release:

    “A retailer said to me last year that, in the time since WEF, he’s had to start handselling my books again, and that he never had to do that when WEF was running.

    There are something over 7500 people on this list. WEF got something around 2500 people through the door every day. According to the Alexa system, warrenellis.com is the 66,000th most visited webpage on the net in the world. According to my slightly unreliable site stats, it gets on average 12,000 unique visitors per weekday.

    [Mark] Millar tells me that Millarworld gets some thirteen million hits (as opposed to unique users) a month.

    I use two gigs of bandwith a day just on a thin WordPress-powered single blog page, with most of the images hosted on Flickr or elsewhere. Each called image constitutes a hit. I pushed more than a million hits a month over to Flickr when I started holding the images there.

    You can’t track all the traffic — the thousand people reading warrenellis.com on LiveJournal, for instance, get it from LJ’s single pull from the site, so it registers on the stats as one unique read.

    All of which is to say: how much difference does a big web presence really make?

    I could fairly easily cause a huge one-stop-shop of a site to be created. And I mean huge. Warren Ellis’ Internet Temple, complete with message board, radio, blogs, email, IM (not PM), feeds from the Signal and warrenellis.com and LJ and Flickr and moblogUK and del.icio.us, and playing Rocketboom in a video box every day.

    But, you know, DESOLATION JONES today sells pretty much the same as TRANSMET did during WEF’s height. So how much difference does a message board make? Would ULTIMATES really be selling less without Millarworld? Or is Millarworld more of a goodwill generator for the fans?

    I’ve got this guy telling me that the loss of WEF has made a difference to his ability to easily sell my work, but warrenellis.com gets four times the daily users WEF did.

    This is something of a puzzle to me.

    Thoughts?”

    I apologize to Warren for the wholesale quote (though I did edit a smidge, just because it had little to directly do with the matter at hand; if you want the unadulterated form, go to Warren’s website) but his argument was interesting. All I can really say for sure is that due to this column I’ve become one of the best known writers about comics if not in comics possibly in the world – it gets a lot of hits – and I’ve never noticed any significant impact on sales of my comics from it. It didn’t help William Christenson at Avatar sell MORTAL SOULS or particularly MY FLESH IS COOL, though I put a lot of pimp into them here, and it didn’t help Byron Preiss, may he rest in piece, sell THE LAST HEROES, though ditto. (There were other factors involved in all those, but still.) I know people who read this column religiously and they’ve never taken the time to track down a single one of my comics. I’m not annoyed by it, I just mentioning it, though, like Warren, I do find it a bit perplexing.

    I suspect a few factors may be a work.

    The way we sell comics works against most comics. Retailers order comics long before they have the opportunity to sell them, and retailers aren’t likely to be swayed by what Warren says about his work or what I say about mine, or even what Mark Millar, whose comics are among the hottest sellers on the market now, says about his. Particularly new comics or short run comics. Unless readers, or potential readers, order their comics before retailers order theirs, and do it in significant numbers, there’s no pull. And that’s an awful leap of faith to consistently impose on readers, even with constant reinforcement. Comics are no longer generally cheap enough, even in comparison with other media, that it’s reasonable to expect readers to gamble on the unseen. Furthermore, the business for the past several years has really beaten down the concept of the creator-owned or even the creator-created comic. I don’t know how much story descriptions affect retailer speculation when ordering (and that’s what it is: speculation; they’ve got no idea when they place their orders whether DESOLATION JONES is going to sell, even if Warren’s IRON MAN is going through the roof, so ordering any copies of a first issue is something of a risk); they seem to look for a hook, several salable factors, like popular artist or recognizable character. Millar’s ULTIMATES may sell just as well without Millarworld but there’s no question that it wouldn’t sell nearly as well if it starred all-original characters of Mark’s creation rather than The Avengers. That’s the market we’ve built around us, and there are people and companies that market strongly benefits, but that’s a fairly narrow subset of people and companies involved in the market.

    But it seems to me that MillarWorld may influence and encourage Millar buyers in a way that the WEF did for Warren but all his subsequent Internet ventures and activism can’t: being essentially a message board (now with a magazine wrapped around it to drive it up to near-portal status, if you haven’t been there lately), MillarWorld is interactive. The WEF was interactive. Warren’s current “missions” aren’t. They’re scripture handed down from on-high. True, you can respond in e-mail to BAD SIGNAL and Warren will read it and sometimes even comment on it, but there is still that gatekeeper there. If you’re interested in Warren’s work, it’s all great information, but it doesn’t create a sense of identity and unification. The WEF and subsequently MillarWorld were expert at anchoring an audience around a single personality yet letting every member of that audience demonstrate their own personality and become a contributor to the whole. As Warren himself has said many times, and, as is theoretically the point of Internet message boards: community. Without it, Warren’s audience was one vast complex system of interlocking worlds orbiting a single great sun. Without it, they’re just distant, disconnected asteroids is lonely orbits far off in space. Or, as Ultravox once put it, “Somehow we drifted off too far, communiquéd like distant stars, splintered voices down the phone…”

    As I’ve mentioned before, this also affects comics in general to some extent. Companies used to create, as best they could, a sense of community in their audiences. Julie Schwartz emphasized letter pages as an exchange of ideas and made them exciting via art and script giveaways (before we all became aware of what a raw deal that was for the talent) for the best letters published. Stan Lee was a master at creating a sense of community, of conspiracy in Marvel Comics, via every gimmick from letter columns to No Prizes to the Merry Marvel Marching Society. I’m convinced comics companies made a huge, huge mistake in abandoning letter columns, ostensibly because the capacity of the Internet for commentary rendered them redundant – but posting comments on the Internet, where maybe a couple hundred people might read them in most instances, can’t begin to measure up to the sense of achievement you got from having a letter published in a comic you like, of knowing someone connected to the comic read your comments and you might possibly have influenced the course of the book, of seeing your name in physical print and knowing most of the however many thousands of readers who purchased the book would also see it. Comics fandom in the ’60s wouldn’t have even started without letters pages. That was how readers separated by geography became aware of each other’s existence and how they got the information that made communication possible.

    In other words, what may now be missing, from Warren’s online efforts and from comics in general, is a sense, however false, of audience involvement. It’s true that other media don’t really worry about generating that – they put often misplaced effort into trying to anticipate and manipulate their audiences instead, then dump out product on a take-it-or-leave-it basis and are usually baffled when the audiences they think they’ve so carefully molded the product to leave it – but comics have a special advantage in that regard. Our audiences are relatively small. We can generate a sense of involvement. We just don’t anymore, most of the time.

    So this may be Warren’s problem. He has spent far more time and effort to create and grow an online audience than any other comics creator, and he deserves every fruit he reaps from that tree. He has maintained and grown the audience for his communiqués, and that’s a spectacular achievement. I certainly have never attempted it, and I doubt I could ever achieve it. He has given them everything they need to continue to work on his behalf to make his work wildly popular.

    He just might not be giving them what they want. We might just not be giving them what they want.

  • I don’t have much time to do reviews this week, but I have piles of books from San Diego and beyond, so let’s get through what we can:

    CHILDREN OF THE GRAVE #3 by Tom Waltz & Chris Maloney, 32 pg b&w comic (Shooting Star Comics;$2.99)

    After a fairly weak second issue, Waltz & Maloney bring the series back up to speed with an issue that, plotwise, is little more than a set-up for the final issue action blowout, but effectively fleshes out the characterizations of not only the three US soldier heroes in their tiny invasion of a Muslim land torn by ethnic cleansing and generational revenge but does the same for the villain, whose psychopathy is made borderline sympathetic. With plot watertreading no longer an issue, dialogue is sharper and Maloney’s art is stronger. Good.

    THE MIDDLE MAN #1 by Javier Grillo-Marxuach and Les McClaine, 32 pg b&w comic (;$2.95)

    Okay, the idea is arguably just a little too high concept – a smirky, possibly super covert government agent who steps up to handle supercrises is discovered by a female temp worker he has to save at a research facility – but it’s played with a nice light touch, the artwork’s got a corresponding Phil Bond feel, and the central character – the 20-something temp – rings true. It’s easily the most commercial, and arguably the best, thing Viper has published since DEAD@17, though this is really only a taste, so any real judgments will have to wait for future issues. But not a bad start.

    THE HOUSE THAT WASN’T HER by Daniel Merlin Goodbrey, 28 pg b&w mini-comic (E-Merl.com; price unknown)

    Goodbrey remains comics’ premier surrealist, though THE HOUSE THAT WASN’T HER is strangely linear and unambiguous for one of his pieces, more like a Bunuel version of TWILIGHT ZONE than his usual flights of fancy. Still worth reading, but it vaguely suggests Goodbrey’s current approach is dead-ending and he’s looking for either content more mainstream or a grander format. Maybe it’s time for him to leave mini-comics behind.

    G.I. SPY #1 by Andrew Cosby & Matt Haley, 32 pg color comic (Boom! Studios;$3.99)

    Another good but not great comic. I like both Andrew and Matt a great deal personally, so I wish I liked this more, but their pre-WWII-era Chaykinesque tale of a lovable rogue who becomes a spy for the U.S. Army plays just a bit flat, mainly because the dialogue and characterizations are so breezy and occasionally affected they frequently come off as glib, particularly in bits like “How did you know it was a bomb?” “Rule #1 in the spy game, Jack… it’s always a bomb.” Matt’s art is lively and lovely, but there are too many places where small bits of storytelling are sacrificed. There’s nothing wrong with the comic, and it’s a solid start that nicely introduces the concept and characters, but it’s also not helped by the cover, which is far more interesting and compelling than anything in the unrelated story is. The cover is a great set-up, but the comic never gets there. I want to see it get there.

    HERO SQUARED #1 by Keith Giffen, Marc DeMatteis & Joe Abraham, 32 pg color comic (Boom! Studios;$3.99)

    Another great comeback. This is actually #2, the real HERO SQUARED #1 being a special that came out last summer and introduced the heroic Captain Valor as he flees his own destroyed world to search for help from a parallel self on a parallel earth only to discover his other self is a goofy slacker and his world-destroying arch-enemy has come after him. As might be expected Giffen and DeMatteis, of ’80s JUSTICE LEAGUE AMERICA fame play it mostly for laughs. But that first issue was shaky, more promise than delivery as they set things up. Fortunately, this issue pays off on that promise, loaded with sight gags and word plays, good characterization and a breezy ease that balances perfectly between appreciation of superhero comics and mockery of them. I can safely say it’s now the book that fans missing FORMERLY KNOWN AS THE JUSTICE LEAGUE have been waiting for, though it’s already screaming to be expanded on, since Giffen and DeMatteis are at their best when working on broader canvases. Abraham’s art is much more polished as well. Top-notch.

    ELK’S RUN #2 & 3 by Joshua Hale Fialkov & Noel Tuazon with Scott Keating, 32 pg. color comic (Hoarse And Buggy Productions;$3@)

    Another good comeback. ELK’S RUN #1, about a small town with a dark secret, was a murky mess that never quite got to the point, the Fialkov and Tuazon get to the point in spades in these issues, finally delineating characters and situations and ratcheting up the tension. It’s a fine job. The art’s a little sketchy, but Tuazon’s developing a pleasing, idiosyncratic style whose flaws are nicely covered – usually – by Keating’s coloring. Show me more.

  • This here’s the letter column:

    “My first observation [re: Comic-Con International was in the pro reg line. Just two years ago it took all of twenty minutes. Now, the average wait is about an hour. Pros do need to be prepared if they’re counting on getting in quickly for a meeting they might have. I had a penciler I know waiting for someone in that situation. The problem is that there are only two lines for badge pick-up while the other lines are for on site. A change to accommodate those who have planned ahead would solve a lot of problems.

    Cold Cut continues to a great job on the self publishing panels both with the guests they provide and in moderating it. Excellent. I especially liked Phil Foglio’s words to the wise.

    My second observation is that the artist’s alley seems smaller than in years past. I can see a civil war between the comics people and film people erupting for control of the floor. It’s too bad they can’t centrally situate all the smaller comics companies together. The upside is that there is almost no aisle that is not interesting enough to walk down. The displays are cool.

    The Eisners were excellent. Everyone felt the absence of Mr. Eisner, and they should. He was a class act. The great thing about them is the diverse works which would otherwise not get a chance for recognition.

    Sunday, hung out with a penciler I know for a while and got a chance to chat. Dave Gibbons, Dave Stevens and Eric Shanower came by. Got a copy of Age Of Bronze. Not bad.

    My third observation was that there seemed to be more of a dialogue when the con was younger and smaller.

    My fourth is the line in that song sung at the Eisners about Stan Lee taking all the credit. And while there is a lot of truth in that, the consistency in his writing went beyond Jack Kirby to Ditko, Colon, Kane and others. Despite the assembly system he had set up. We all need to forget the downside sometimes. we’re more than the sum of our mistakes and so many collaborators were never the same on their own.

    And the last observation is that you have to give the con a hand for running the monster. It’s not an easy feat.”

    No, San Diego must be a logistical nightmare, and it’s surprising it runs as well as it does. As I mentioned last week, I believe the pro line problems were mostly due to orders from the fire marshal, and I’m sure the Con is aware enough of the general displeasure to try to come up with an alternative system next year. Artist’s Alley seemed smaller partly because a number of artists have started pooling together and buying tables on the general floor, which were far greater in number than in previous years, while others spent most of their time at company booths rather than Artist Alley tables. I doubt any conflicts with movie people for floor space had anything to do with it. I missed Arnold Drake’s little ode to Stan Lee, but I’m sure Stan can take it. (Didn’t Drake do some work for him after his tenure at DC abruptly ended? Some book called UNCANNY X-MEN, wasn’t it?) AGE OF BRONZE not bad? And how about that Shakespeare guy? Pretty good writer when he wants to be, huh?

    “Sure, Rove probably did something, maybe not an all out leak, but he didn’t keep the cover on like he should have. . . either way, Bush ain’t gonna fire him, what w/ all that Bush family loyalty stuff. . . no matter what Bush has said about punishing anyone who leaks, he won’t punish Rove. He’s already changed his tune to ‘I’ll fire anyone who’s committed a crime’ from the ‘I’ll fire anyone who leaks’ line. .. Bush does what he wants. . . pretends to be principled but he is the epitome of old boy network/look out for his buddies kinda guy. . .

    The Dems don’t have anything else going on, which is why they’re trying to stir this one up, but this is a horse that won’t run. . ..”

    Yeah, it’s just a silly botched burglary at the Watergate, it’s not like the story’s ever going to amount to more than that. Anyway, if Rove’s hanging his defense on “I never said her name, I only said Joe Wilson’s wife,” unless Wilson’s a fundamentalist Mormon Rove has pretty much copped to an all-out leak already. I doubt anyone ever really expected the Hand Puppet to dump The Hand over this, but these things have a way of snowballing. As for HP’s lack of general principles and determination to do whatever he wants, what do you think I’ve been writing about for five years?

    “I totally agree with your comments on the show. I think this year I could categorize my experience as ‘How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Comic-Con.’ I¹ve been one of those people who has been bitching in recent years about how comics seem to have become overshadowed by movie studios, toy makers, game companies, etc. Yet I have been finding that while I bitch about it all in advance, I don¹t want it to end once I am there. Yes, I certainly miss the old days of Comic-Con, where it was a more manageable size and there was a more active social scene, both during the days and after hours, but those days are gone and the new experience has nothing to do with that. There are certainly enough smaller conventions going on during the year if you want to get your fill of a little bit of what San Diego used to be like. (Wonder Con, APE, Mocca, the various Wizard World shows, etc.)

    I think having my wife accompany me in recent years has helped. While she reads the occasional comic book, she can hardly be described as a diehard fan. She also hates the size of the crowds, but she loves the spectacle of it all and I think her enjoyment of it has restored a little bit of my sense of wonder. Hell, I’ve even come to appreciate those people who come to the show in costume, although it is now fashionable among certain industry snobs to mock them and regard them in the same light as you might that embarrassing relative who hangs out in the front yard in his underwear and keeps an old, wheel-less Camaro jacked up on cinder blocks in the driveway.

    My feeling is, you can¹t bemoan the loss of the show¹s traditional emphasis on comics and then complain about having these folks running around. They keep us honest and remind us of where we all came from.

    No, my complaints related to the size of Comic-Con have now shifted from the show itself to the city planners of San Diego. This may be one of those cases where nothing can be done about it, but someone needs to try and shake up city hall and remind them that if they value the show¹s presence as a source of community pride and tourist dollars, there¹s a lot they can do to make it more pleasant. For one thing, how about a couple of pedestrian bridges running from the convention center above the trolley tracks? The cattle shoot experience of leaving the building to get into the heart of town has become, for me, the single most unpleasant aspect of going to the show.

    Also (and this is probably going to be considered blasphemous considering all of the controversy in recent years regarding room availability) they need to stop building hotels. They are making more and more places to pack the tourists in at the expense of providing services to accommodate them.

    Have you noticed that there seem to be fewer restaurants this year at the lower end of the street leading into the Gas Lamp district from the convention center? There is simply no longer such as thing as ‘slipping out’ for lunch. It has become a marathon excursion, wherein it takes about 45 minutes to get anyplace (thanks in part to the aforementioned pedestrian traffic jams) and when you do, there is about an equal amount of time required to get seated and served because everyone from the convention is going to the same handful of restaurants.

    And while this is only a consideration for California attendees and those flying in who rent cars, the parking situation has become abysmal. The drive through downtown has become almost impossible, and when you can find parking, it is outrageously expensive. I commute down from northern San Diego County these days. Last year, we discovered it was easier to park in Old Town, just north of the downtown area (although there’s hardly plentiful parking available there either), and take the trolley in the rest of the way. A good solution, you might say. But they simply do not run enough trolleys. And in a year like this one where the Padres were playing at their home stadium across the street from Comic-Con, getting on board was sometimes nightmarish. (I have to say though that this was the only situation in which I found the presence of the Padres crowd to represent any sort of major inconvenience. I know everyone was dreading it in advance.)

    Again, none of this is within the control of the Comic-Con organizers, although I would imagine that they might now have some community clout with which to address the city planners. These things certainly don’t diminish my enjoyment of the show, except in that they do sometimes contribute to my missing certain panels I might want to see. And they sure do add to the level of exhaustion. It just seems that with all of the construction that has been going on in the area in recent years, more space for restaurants near the center, a few additional parking structures (maybe south of the convention center and trolley accessible) and a couple of pedestrian bridges wouldn’t exactly break the bank.”

    The best place near the convention to get a relatively quick lunch is the bar in the South Tower of the Marriott next door. I don’t recommend driving anywhere near the Gaslamp District in any case; I park at the hotel and travel on foot until I leave. (I do like the idea of foot bridges though, but can’t imagine who’d bribe the San Diego City Council into providing them.) I imagine the only real clout the Con has with the Council is its perennial “threat” – the rumor of which I notice has been resurrected now – of relocating to Anaheim or Los Angeles, because the Council is certainly aware of how much revenue the Con brings to the city, particularly now that media has started flooding in for it, but I also can’t really imagine the Con relocating, since I’m sure they know just how associated they are with San Diego and how much San Diego plays to the industries, comics and Hollywood, as a beach town escape, which is a huge part of its appeal. So I suspect the Con’s leverage with the Council isn’t tremendous, but effective when applied selectively, though you’d think the Convention Center, the Hilton and the Omni would find some merit in the foot bridges as well.

    “Thanks for drawing some attention to Jim Aparo’s PHANTOM STRANGER work in today’s column. You’re exactly right: it was a high-water mark for both Jim and DC. One of my biggest scores this year in San Diego was PHANTOM STRANGER #17, an Aparo issue. Then two days later came the news of his death. Jim was one of the great unsung artists of the Bronze Age. Those PHANTOM STRANGER tales really do hold up better than 99% of DC’s other books from that time period. They were indeed, as you put it, ahead of their time.

    For years I’ve been saying that DC’s biggest ongoing mistake is not doing a new PHANTOM STRANGER ongoing series. I know for a fact that Neil Gaiman, Brian Azzarrello, and Grant Morrison have all expressed interest in writing the character. What is DC’s problem? This is arguably one of their top five characters of all time. Read the Aparo issues and it’s plainly evident. However there is a slight ray of hope for Stranger fans: Mark Waid recently said his new BRAVE AND THE BOLD series will feature a central character to “connect” all the guest stars – from the hints he dropped, there’s a good chance that the Stranger will be a common element in this new title. If that’s the case, maybe it’ll drum up some fan letters and make DC realize they need to get PHANTOM STRANGER back into his own title. (What’s Tom Mandrake doing these days anyway? He’d be perfect!)

    Anyway, thanks for expressing your views on this classic title that more people should seek out and experience. I, like you, hope they collect this in a nice high-quality trade very soon. It would be the perfect tribute to Aparo, and a long overdue focus on one of comics’ best characters.”

    I half suspect that if we’re led to expect The Phantom Stranger in BRAVE AND BOLD, it’ll turn out to be Hypertime Jonathan Kent. But I’d like to reiterate those PS stories also feature some of Len Wein’s most inventive work ever. I’ve pitched (a rejected) PHANTOM STRANGER series myself, but I don’t know if he could ever be made a first tier character ala Batman or Superman. Part of the problem is that what’s most interesting about him is exactly what makes him the hardest for most people to identify with: we’re not supposed to know anything about him. He’s a stranger. He’s the sort of character I could see supporting a graphic novels rather than a series. And DC over the years has tried to make him more specific and convert him from a mystery character to a mystical character, which has played against him. At this point I’m not sure they’d be able to “rescue” him, but a collection of those Wein/Aparo stories would certainly make a fine direction marker. Except those didn’t sell when they came out either, the character isn’t popular and has no credible current exposure, Len Wein is a mostly forgotten presence as far as DC is concerned, and without severe re-education that the company wouldn’t be willing to put money behind, it’s unlikely they could successfully market Aparo as a “fan-favorite” illustrator (no matter how much he deserves to be one) so I’m not sure what hook they’d be able to hang the book on.

    “Just a couple observations on autographs at SDCC… I’ve been to a number of SDCCs and used to be quite an avid collector.

    On the autograph pavilion, celebs (term used loosely, in some cases, I realize) get no compensation to appear, aside from free admission. So they have to pay hotel and travel costs out of their own pocket. I have no problem if Johnny Whitaker or Richard Hatch want to charge $20 for a nice color 8×10 with a signature — it gives me a collectible that I know is authentic, and usually a chance to chat with the celeb for a little bit. (Most celebs will graciously chat even if you don’t buy anything, of course.) In fact, the SDCC requires the celeb sign one item for free per person, in exchange for the pavilion space. Some celebs try to limit what that signature is – for instance, only signing the program book – and I’m not sure if that’s technically allowed or not. Many will sign anything; some will argue about signing at all if money doesn’t trade hands (coughERINGRAYcough). But as you said, a lot don’t have many other sources of income, and I don’t have a problem with them charging. I do agree with the celebs on the floor, though. I’ve seen plenty of companies bring in people for free sessions – Inkworks and the ALIAS tv gang, or Wizards of the Coast and LORD OF THE RINGS guys, for example. Even the manufacturers of the STAR WARS trading card game had SW celebs signing for free. It’s odd that LucasFilm would charge though, isn’t it? But also interestingly, I believe that because they’re on the actual show floor, celebs don’t have to sign that pesky free autograph described above! Anyway, some great points you raised! Happy Anniversary!”

    Thanks, and thanks for the clarification. I don’t really have a problem with celebrities charging for multiple autographs. One autograph is a souvenir, more than one is a business proposition. But otherwise…

    “whoever suggested you turn “Talisman” into a novel was on the mark. I can say I am interested; I hope you keep with it. Effective, moody. Nice.

    Now, however, I’d like to comment on something that has become a little pet peeve of mine.

    It seems all writers are infected with this, but I notice it especially in the prose of comics writers (Roger Stern’s recent, and very enjoyable, SUPERMAN: THE NEVER-ENDING BATTLE has it in spades): the atmosphere is moody, we’re “coming to” and beginning to identify with a woman who’s life has evidently been shattered, and then we’re in some other person’s head. This is the seventh paragraph, maybe the second page of a novel. Then we’re back in Megan’s head again. It was jarring. It’s a nice bit of character, but unnecessary and really adds nothing you can’t convey through the guard’s dialog and Megan’s observation of his body language.

    Certainly, this is an early draft and things will change, as they always do in creative ventures, and certainly, also, you have your well-formed style. It just seems many writers jump in and out of characters’ heads within a single scene, pointlessly straying from one consistent point of view until the reader begins to wonder who the scene/story is about.

    As I said, I see it in comics writers’ prose work possibly because they’re used to visual storytelling. I’m reading Marv Wolfman’s ESSENTIAL TOMB OF DRACULA and he does this character bit over and over. It works well in comics. I’ve read two of his ’70s Marvel novels and they’re less effective.”

    I’m not unsympathic – I did consider this when writing the piece – but you’re sort of flying in the face of literary and cultural development since the beginning of the 20th century. There’s nothing in the rules of fiction that limits viewpoint – it’s more of a commercial consideration imposed by book publishers to simplify matters for the audience and adopted as a “rule” by English teachers – or keeps it from shifting within any give unit of prose, but you can really blame it on Picasso, who torched the whole issue by painting a woman as seen from several different viewpoints over several different timeframes all at once, one of his most famous works. Many of my favorite novelists warp and virtually obliterate viewpoint as a conscious decision in their work, particularly postwar (and later) novelists like William Gaddis, William Burroughs and Thomas Pynchon. Ken Kesey’s SOMETIMES A GREAT NOTION, arguably one of the ten greatest novels of the 20th century, sweeps effortlessly from viewpoint to viewpoint not even on the same page but within the same paragraph, to sweeping and brilliant effect. Which isn’t to say I necessarily handled it right; that’s not my call to make. But it was an intentional shift, for two reasons: it established the night watchman, however peripherally, as a character rather than a prop, which I felt was necessary to the “punchline,” and for purposes of mood it was more interesting to see his response to Megan than Megan’s response to him. But I do understand why you didn’t like it.

  • Just like Watergate, it gets more and more interesting the deeper you delve. The latest “revelation” from what’s now being known as “The Valerie Plame Affair” – diplomat Joe Wilson investigated and negated pre-Iraq War claims that Saddam Hussein was trying to buy fissionable material from Niger for a nuclear weapons program, then cried foul when the administration continued to push that fantasy as a rationale for invading Iraq, which was followed by several reporters starting with the unctuous Bob Novak revealing that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, was a CIA agent, leading eventually to a Justice Department/grand jury investigation and the ultimate revelation that the source of the information was Hand Puppet svengali and White House master manipulator Karl Rove, who now claims he a) didn’t know Plame was a CIA field agent (as opposed to a staff member) and b) never referred to her by name, only by her obviously singular association with Wilson – is that, when the DoJ investigation into the leak was begun, then-White House counsel (and now attorney general in charge of the Justice Department) Alberto Gonzales was told of the investigation by the DoJ but didn’t bother officially notifying the White House for another 12 hours. See, an official notification would immediately freeze disposition of all tapes and materials related to the charges being investigated, which would result in another “18½ minute gap” if something that was supposed to be there turned up missing. The “gap” as much as anything was what did Nixon in during Watergate; it convinced the nation he was hiding something, and it’s absence seemed too obviously convenient to be accidental. (We’ll never actually know what whether it was important or not, since we’ll never know what was on it.) But Gonzales did tell someone unofficially: Rove’s nominal boss, White House Chief Of Staff Andrew Card.

    The big question now is: what did Card tell Rove?

    If Rove was going around outing CIA agents, it’s virtually inconceivable he was doing it out of pocket. He’s a smart guy, too smart to do something that dumb without anyone else knowing about it. Did the Hand Puppet know? He might have but there’s no reason on the face of it to assume he did, since he has made it very clear that he’s a President who wishes to know nothing besides what his handlers tell him, and there’s no reason they’d tell him that. That the “leak” was intended to punish Wilson for his “UnAdministration activities” is without doubt. Why else single out Plame and make sure her association with Wilson was known? It’s not inconceivable that Card knew about it, or even Gonzales (though Gonzales is also a smart enough guy to be able to follow the dots, since even at the start of the investigation it was reasonably certain the leak came from within the White House). But doesn’t telling Card constitute telling the White House? Gonzales claims he essentially got permission to hold off official notification for twelve hours, which only increases the number of questions. If Gonzales really got such an okay, was the DoJ allowing the White House a legal backdoor to clean up their mess before it was too late? (Such things aren’t unheard of, and this is an administration that has gone out of its way to drastically increase DoJ powers, and a little quid pro quo is hardly considered out of line in Washington, particularly under a White House that has demonstrated time and time again it expects government agencies to toe the line.) So what did Card do with the information for those twelve hours? Did he go have a couple drinks, get a good night’s sleep, and arrive back at the White House bushy eyed and bright tailed just in time to watch the troops be notified? Or did he and/or Rove spend twelve hours paper chasing to cover their tracks before the investigation officially began. That Rove outted Plame is beyond question, but Gonzales’ revelation now opens the door to another investigation: was there an attempted cover-up?

    The problem is: if Gonzales, Card and Rove all say no, there’s no way short of corroborating evidence that we can believe them. Then again, we never could. They can’t say “Take our word for it, for we are honest men,” when they wallow deeper and deeper in shoals of dishonesty. How many lies do we need to get from an administration before it becomes unreasonable to do anything but assume they’re lying at the start and force them to prove that they’re not? With the Patriot Act, the White House officially threw out any American standards of innocence until proven otherwise; if they prefer to have a system where guilt is presumed prima facie and denial of guilt is confirmation of it, it’s only fair that they should wriggle on their own hook.

    We may as well get used to the Patriot Act, since the House Of Representatives recently authorized its continuation, or at least most of it, with much more extended “sunset provisions,” ten years this time, and even those are too restrictive for the administration, which wants to make all aspects of the existing Patriot Act, as well as the expanded version to come, a permanent facet of American life. Because, you know, it has worked so well so far. The London bombings couldn’t have come at a better time for the Administration (hmmm…), since both Congressional Republicans and even a handful of Democrats were kicking up fusses about the quasi-fascistic abuses of power and liberty authorized by the act, but then suddenly switched gears to show the American public they would do “whatever it takes” to secure the safety of American transportation systems. Too bad they weren’t so concerned in the ’50s when the CIA was dousing New York subways with various germs and other substances to see what would happen. Again, House measures on behalf of the Patriot Act – don’t want to mollycoddle the terrorists, after all – softened considerably, but the White House is hoping the Senate takes a more “sensible” approach, which is to say, as severe as the White House prefers.

    And deciding the (obviously deficient) constitutionality of such schemes will be a Supreme Court that will almost certainly include new nominee John Roberts. The guy is a fascinating chimera who seems to have spent most of his legal career ensuring his viewpoint remains totally obscured, hence there’s nothing really for either side of any potential debate to hang on him or hang him with. He wrote while working for Monicagate’s Ken Starr that Roe v. Wade was suspicious jurisprudence and should be overturned (a friend of mine is fond of reminding everything that Roe v. Wade didn’t technically “legalize” abortion as state that government interference ends at the surface of a person’s skin; the government cannot force anyone to do anything with their body that they do not want to do, so that, theoretically, is the principle everyone on the Right wants so desperately to consign to oblivion – or are they simply content to throw the baby out with the bathwater?) but then issued a counterstatement claiming that the opinion was the one required of him but he’s personally got nothing against Roe v. Wade and is more than happy to let it linger on. Despite a fairly well established record as a corporate lapdog with environmentally disastrous decisions on behalf of Big Business, his last hearing, for Federal Appeals Court, resulted in a throng of pleasant endorsements across the political spectrum that make it difficult for antagonists to rise now, even if he fed Jeb Bush legal strategies for handling the recount of the Florida vote in 2000 that resulted in… well, you know. That thing no one’s supposed to mention anymore. (Though it can be easily assumed that his current nomination is a reward more for that service than for anything else in his career.)

    Still, the Supreme Court has had a profound effect on more than one judge. It’s unlikely that Roberts’ big business bent will change anytime soon, but, as he seems far less interested in social or political issues, he may end up exhibiting on such cases the relative independence that Sandra Day O’Connor, herself originally installed as an arch-conservative, ended up showing through most of her Supreme Court career. With Roberts most likely taking O’Connor’s position as swing vote on the court, and certainly with many issues directly affecting the quality of life and freedom in America on the docket of any forthcoming “Roberts court” (he’s now being openly proposed to replace Rehnquist as Chief Justice, when the old man, his former mentor, finally cashes it in, which must put Scalia in a foul mood) it’ll be like living in one constant long game of Russian roulette for the country, won’t it?

  • NOTES FROM UNDER THE FLOORBOARD:

    Interesting week, as the comics community abruptly rallied around Heroes Con following an apparent attempted assault by WizardWorld conventions, which scheduled a convention in Atlanta on the same weekend as Heroes Con next year. It’s kind of gratifying to see talent come together like that, particularly when it seemed Atlanta-based talent, which would theoretically benefit most from WizardWorld, were in the frontlines of the counterattack. Whether it was a misunderstanding (WizardWorld has cited wrong information for their choice, while memos have indicated it was a conscious decision and it’s reminiscent of rumors from a few years ago that Wizard was suicidally considering mounting their Los Angeles convention directly opposite to San Diego) or a devious plot, it all seems to be settled now, with WizardWorld rescheduling, though many in the comics community are apparently still up in arms about it. The side effect has been a big boost of publicity for Heroes Con, which has already starting posting its guest list for next year.

    I recently decided it’s time to get a number of projects going, so I’ve started an artist search on sites like Digital Webbing and Penciljack (and if you’ve sent art samples and haven’t gotten word back yet, don’t panic; I’m pushing to wrap up a screenplay before the end of the month so I haven’t had time to give any art the consideration it’s due). If you’re interested, check here for information. However, if you’re a working professional artist, you can help me too. As most pros who’ve looked at art portfolios know, many aspiring artists eagerly jump in well before they’re ready. So, as an adjunct to my “Down And Dirty Guide To Creating Comics,” I’d like to run a piece on “how to tell you’re not ready to take your art professional.” I have my own idea of the telltale signs, but it strikes me many working artists would have an even better idea. This is strictly for purposes of self-diagnostics, so people can have some basis for judging their own work and saving themselves a lot of hassles and heartbreak, so if any working professional artists (this part is very important) would like to send in their own lists of telltale signs for inclusion, I’d really appreciate it. All responses will be used anonymously, unless otherwise requested, per column policy.

    According to my semi-disreputable sitemate, Rich Johnston, DC Comics have begun doling out honorariums to comics talent whose characters, ideas and designs had “significant input” on BATMAN BEGINS. If true, let’s give the company a huge round of applause for this. Hopefully Bill Finger’s estate will be among the beneficiaries, and I’d also like to nominate Ed Brubaker and Doug Mahnke. I recently read their THE MAN WHO LAUGHS graphic novel (AKA “Joker Year 1”) shortly after seeing BATMAN BEGINS, and was struck by huge similarities in the tone of the two projects, as well as the visual styles and portrayals of some characters, particularly Captain James Gordon. See the movie and read the book and you’ll see what I mean. I know Ed would be the first to note THE MAN WHO LAUGHS was liberally “influenced” by BATMAN YEAR ONE, but even with that if you read those two projects you’ll note a schism of tone and style, and BATMAN BEGINS is still far closer to the former than the latter. While THE MAN WHO LAUGHS was released mere weeks before the film, the book was completed a couple years earlier, allowing plenty of time for the filmmakers to have seen it, so: are Ed and Doug due anything?

    Met with several producers in San Diego, and one question that kept coming up was something I’ve often wondered about. With so many comics companies now adopting a somewhat naïve, delusional business plan of “We’ll publish comics and sell the rights to Hollywood and make our money that way!” Ignoring for the moment any creator rights questions, what I, and, apparently, many producers, have been wondering is: if they intend to sell rights to Hollywood, why do so few comics companies produce material that film companies would actually want? If you look at the sorts of things that have sold to movies over the past few years, and at the kinds of movies and TV shows that get made, it’s not all that hard to figure out (knocking out any thoughts of formulae, because there’s nothing that turns Hollywood off quicker than formula material, even if they reduce it to formula themselves once they get their hands on it – go figure) what material to produce to maximize your chances. Part of it is the problem of trying to serve two masters, of course; the comics market and the film market simply have different considerations. And it’s not like I think comics necessarily should be developed with eventual film exploitation as a consideration (they probably shouldn’t be), but, if you’re staking your financial future on it, it seems to me a little more planning than “they’ll take whatever we publish” is a good idea.

    One of the more interesting notions to come out of San Diego is the idea that the convention is “losing a step” because no major comics news erupted from it. I think this is politics, not fate. Marvel, while their presence in San Diego was much stronger this year than in the last couple, has clearly thrown in with Wizard as a general rule and was obviously holding off big Big announcements for Chicago, which is their right. As a result, DC was obviously holding off on big announcements so they could upstage Marvel in Chicago. I don’t think it can be attributed to anything inherent about San Diego, and other comics companies ought to take this into account for next year, since the gamesmanship is likely to continue and this is their big chance to wag the tail themselves for a change.

    So I pop into my favorite comics shop, Alternate Reality, on Saturday, wonder why the parking lot is so full, and who should be inside but Jim Lee, signing ALL STAR BATMAN AND ROBIN alongside various other talents like Ale Garza. I didn’t get the chance to say hi in San Diego, so I’m glad I could there, though he had a line waiting for him and I was on a tight schedule so there wasn’t any chance to talk. Nice to see you, Jim.

    Finally got a chance to watch SHAUN OF THE DEAD on DVD. Hilarious, and arguably the final word on NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD-style zombie apocalypse stories. The only arguably slack part was when they get to the pub; they didn’t really seem to know what to do with it, though it was certainly funny enough. The ending’s a pisser, though, with the sort of payoff to earlier setups that I’m no longer accustomed to seeing in British films (or many American ones, for that matter). Also a good set of extras, including mini-storyboards/comic books filling in plot holes (perhaps this should be a feature on most DVD releases) and expanded TV show/ad segments from the movie. Fun for the whole family.

    I’m for once glad that I kept my mouth shut about something. Regular readers know I became a fan of VERONICA MARS (UPN, 9P Wednesday) over the last season, following the badgering of several respected comics writers who insisted I give it a try. Sister network CBS will try to boost the series with a mini-marathon next month. The first season revolved around several mysteries but most importantly the murder of Veronica’s best friend, heiress Lili Kane, and the solution to the mystery was the focus of the final episode. The season was awash in red herrings, dead ends and clever misdirections, but I’d figured out the killer, the motivation and some of the course of events leading up to it – I’d say I got about 85% of it – and considered speculating in a column. Instead, I emailed the writers who’d gotten me to watch the show, and kept it quiet. As it turns out, the producer had an alternative prepared had the Internet managed to out the planned conclusion: Veronica’s ex-boyfriend and possible half-brother, not to mention Lili’s brother, Duncan Kane. Or so he says. As that possibility was dangled about throughout most of the season, it would have been a terrible letdown. At any rate, I’m glad I didn’t put it to the test. But give the show a watch next season, okay? And sample the reruns now if you haven’t seen them before.

    Thanks to Alexander Ness, who’s been throwing kudos this way in his column this week. Oh, and in this one, too.

    It’s funny. Two weeks ago I came up with what I thought was a really difficult Comics Cover Challenge, and many readers got it with no problem at all. Last week I had what seemed to be very easy, especially since the answer was right in the column, and people struggled with it, though many came very close. The answer: all comics featured work by Jim Aparo. Congratulations to:

    Mike Gallaher

    who wants to mention his M.G. Astrological System page. Good work, Mike!

    As usual, the first reader to correctly identify the unifying theme (unfortunately, it’s got to be the one I intended, rather than any that may coincidentally surface) of the comics covers scattered throughout this week’s column can promote the website of their choice, provided they keep it reasonably clean. This week’s challenge is a tricky one, but all the clues you need to solve it are right here in the column.

    For those who asked, more TALISMAN next week. Like I said above, I’m trying to get a screenplay finished by the end of the month because the people who want it want it very soon and I’ve spent enough time on it already, so, aside, from this column, that’s my focus for the moment. As soon as that’s out, I’m on TALISMAN and several other projects like an Englishman on bad food.

    This just in! On Thursday, July 28, FILM FESTIVAL TODAY MAGAZINE‘s Brad Balfour is moderating a “Comics And Movies” discussion at the Virgin MegaStore at Union Square in Manhattan featuring writer/editor Danny Fingeroth, retailer Vito Delsante, and Newsarama‘s Dan Epstein. The program starts in the café at 6:30P and will include an audience Q&A session. If you’re anywhere near New York, don’t miss it.

    Finally, there has really been a spurt lately of people ordering IMPOLITIC: A Journal Of The Plague Years Pt. 1 and TOTALLY OBVIOUS, my e-books on .pdf. The first is political writings, the second is essays on comics, culture, creativity and the freelance life, a sale on a combo pack featuring both runs through Sunday, and if you want more information on contents or how to order, go to the Paper Movies Store. Thanks, everyone.

    Those wishing to comment should leave messages on the Permanent Damage Message Board. You can also e-mail me but the chances of a reply are next to nil these days, given my workload, though I do read all my e-mail as long as it’s not trying to sell me something. IMPORTANT: Because a lot of people apparently list it in their e-address books, this account has gotten a slew of virus-laden messages lately. They’re no real threat but dealing with them eats up time I don’t really have, to the extent I can no longer accept unsolicited e-mail with attachments. If you want to send something via attachment (say, art samples) ask me first. If I say okay, then send. Unsolicited e-mail with attachments will be wiped from the server without being read. You can also leave messages for me and have discussions on other topics at my Delphi forum, GRAPHIC VIOLENCE. Please don’t ask me how to break into the business, or who to submit work to. The answers to those questions are too mercurial for even me to keep up with.

    Those wanting to subscribe to the WHISPER e-mail newsletter should click here.

    I’m reviewing comics sent to me – I may not like them but certainly I’ll mention them – at Steven Grant c/o Permanent Damage, 2657 Windmill Pkwy #194, Henderson NV 89074, so send ’em if you want ’em mentioned, since I can’t review them unless I see them. Some people have been sending press releases and cover proofs and things like that, which I enjoy getting, but I really can’t do anything with them, sorry. Full comics only, though they can be photocopies rather than the published version. Make sure you include contact information for readers who want to order your book.

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